Oklahoma basketball: Sooners’ season went south in January and kept on going

Jan 24, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners bench reacts during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners bench reacts during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

This has been a unique, to say the very least, and upsetting sports year for fans of Oklahoma football and men’s basketball.

As the regular season draws to a close and a good number of teams begin to turn their thoughts to the postseason and the championship month of March in college basketball, about all the Sooner men have to look forward to is the end to the misery that has been the 2022-23 season, but mostly the ’23 portion of the schedule.

Over the past four decades, rarely has there been a year in which both Oklahoma football and men’s basketball, the two biggest revenue sports in the OU athletic department, have both experienced down years. When one of those programs has had a substandard season, the other has given the fans something good to cheer about.

This split sports year has been an exception. The OU football program suffered its first losing season since 1998. The Sooners’ Cheez-It Bowl loss to Florida State left OU with a 6-7 overall record. The 14-time Big 12 champion fared even worse in the Big 12, going a very un-Oklahoma-like 3-6 and a 7th-place tie with three other teams in the conference standings.

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The discouraging football results that hit fans so hard in the fall managed to carry over and hit the basketball program even harder and has Sooner Nation desperately turning to gymnastics and softball for some form of Sooner sports normalcy.

As a matter of full disclosure, Oklahoma basketball has not been a complete disaster. The Sooner women are producing quite the opposite effect on the hardwood. OU is 21-4 overall and ranked 11th in the country. The Lady Sooners sport a 12-3 record in the conference and are tied for first place.

The way the Oklahoma men began the season may have been an early omen of what lay ahead. The Sooners lost their season opener to unheralded Sam Houston State. They responded by winning 9 of their next 11 games to go 9-3 in the nonconference schedule, and the awaiting Big 12 schedule set up nicely, giving Oklahoma two home games to open the conference season.

The Sooners lost their first two Big 12 home games, to Texas and Iowa State, by a combined four points. They sandwiched a five-point road win at Texas Tech in front of a four-point loss at Kansas, a game OU fans will painfully recall that the visiting Sooners led by 10 points with five minutes remaining.

The Sooners responded to the Kansas loss with a narrow one-point, 77-76 home victory over West Virginia, which left OU with a 2-3 record in conference play. All five games were decided by five or fewer points, and the concern noted early on was the Oklahoma men had difficulty closing out tight games.

That actually was the good news. OU played well in a two-point loss at home to Baylor but lost by double digits to both TCU and Oklahoma State on the road. On Jan. 28, the Sooner pulled off probably the biggest upset of the college basketball season, scoring 93 points and beating then-No. 2 Alabama by 25 points.

Oklahoma apparently didn’t get much of a lift from the top-five win over the Crimson Tide. Since then, the Sooners have lost seven of their last eight games. And you can forget the idea of finishing out the final five minutes strong. Only two of the seven games OU has lost during that stretch was a four-point game at the five-minute mark of the second half (an 85-83 overtime  loss at Texas and a 74-63 home loss on Wednesday to Texas Tech.

Counting the 70-69 loss to Texas on Dec. 31, Oklahoma has gone 4-12 in the new year, all but one of those games against Big 12 foes. The Sooners have just three games remaining in the regular season and, given current history, a likely one and-done appearance in the Big 12 Tournament as a 10-seed. OU will be underdogs in every remaining game.

Unless the Sooners sneak out a victory in one or more of the remaining games, they will finish what has been a highly unmemorable 2022-23 season with a 13-19 overall record and an even more intolerable 3-15 record — a winning percentage of .167 — in the Big 12 standings.

That would stand as the worst conference season by an Oklahoma men’s basketball team, based on win percentage, since the 1968-69 Sooner team that finished 3-11 in the Big Eight and the fourth worst conference record in program history.

The season is mercifully winding down for the OU men’s basketball team with the Sooners trying to avoid the wrong side of history. Looking on the bright side, though: The only direction the program can go from here is up.